Perfect Japan's first impression: Osaka's lights, food & main station
After landing in Tokyo Haneda, we had to go through customs, drop our baggage again and change terminal. There wasn't much to do there, except for waiting for our boarding in an ANA airplane, which was ridiculously efficient.
We slept through it, but I woke up in time to see Osaka from the air. Once on ground, I made peace with the Japanese toilets (first try in Tokyo was... wet. I mean it, all the cubicle ended up wet) and asked at the info point the way to an ATM and the train. Even with their instructions it took forever, and after buying an ICOCA card, we checked again Google maps, and this time it suggested a bus. So while I was trying to decipher the bus information, a girl asked me if I needed help. Yes, yes, yes please. It really wasn't complicated, but sleep deprived me was taking longer than normal to make sense of any map or direction. I told her we were going to the center and, since she was going that way too, she offered to go together (by train, like I first thought, of course.)
Her name was Kuni (who knows how to spee this?) and was studying to become a pilot. A friend/coworker was with her and both of them were super nice, although the friend was too shy to speak English. When we arrived, they asked exactly where we needed to go, which was about 15min walking, but they recommended to get another train that would take us closer. They walked us to the station, told us we should try sometime the pork buns in 551 and, after taking a picture we parted ways.
After getting off and, of course, taking the wrong way the first time and buying a tea and an ice cream, we found our guest house, U-En. Check in was really uncomplicated and we took some time off to relax and shower before going out to explore. We were really exhaused, but it was 17:10! We searched how to arrive to Dotonbori and followed Alex's phone instructions. Being 90% sure that the train we were in was going to the station we needed, I asked the girl next to me in japanese, and she understood me! She checked her phone and told us Dotonbori was "chotto walking" (lit. a bit walking), which was... 10min? They really don't like walking in Osaka :)
We saw Dotonbori light up slowly, bought takoyaki, gyozas and some more takoyaki, strolled, went into a crazy big arcade place... And to relax we went up the Ferris wheel in Don Quijote. When we went down we checked the shop but the line to pay was crazy, so instead, we went to a convinience store to get matcha Kitkat and got back to our place. We drank tea in the common room with two other guests until we couldn't keep our eyese open anymore and went to sleep.
After waking up short past eight and getting a shower, I met one of the guys from the previous night, Liam, the canadian. He was leaving to Kyoto and we exchanged FB to maybe meet there. His tip for breakfast: 7Eleven. So after chilling and sipping tea, there we went, to get something to eat on our way. Onigiris and an okonomiyaki. We took a train to Umeda station, to go to the Tourist information to get an Osaka Amazing Pass. We were not finding the subway entrance, where the Info point was, and an old man stopped and helped us getting there.
We bought our cards, sat on the station to eat our breakfast while watching people come and go, and went to Osaka-jo, the castle. We visited it, went up, strolled around the gardens and when we were about to go we saw the Illusion Museum was in the Castle park too, so we went back to it. We even came back to see the magic show after going out (since the girls working there told us it was free). It was unexpectedly funny. We quickly visited another of the gardens there included in our pass, and by then we were hungry and was a bit late, so we got a lunch box at a convinience store in the castle grounds. When we noticed it was going to start raining, we went into the History Museum, a beauriful building. There, appart from the exhibition, we enjoyed the views and making puzzles, with the elderly volunteers cheering us up like we were kids.
Before going out we thought it would be nice to go to the Zoo, but we checked the times and saw it was already closed, so we decided to go to the Umeda Sky Building. Once in the station we were not seeing it from there, so... great idea: go up the Hep Five Ferris Wheel to find it. When we came down, it started raining cats and dogs, and still had to follow Google maps to navigate until there. Entrance was free until 6, and we had to wait 20 minutes, making it inside at 17:55! Phew! And... maybe it was because of the rain, but it was not so cool.
We crossed to the other tower, to see the Koji Kinutani Tenku Art Museum, since our Pass guide said something about 3D art. When we arrived, we got some 3D glasses and got to see two 5 minute videos. First time in my life I saw 3D looking really good, and overall inmersive and awesome! The rest of the small exhibition were paintings, and a super cute cafe with views, but we didn't have time to get anything there, because... we still wanted to go somewhere else. Yet another tower, the Tsutenkaku Tower. Lighten up at night, the area surrounding it looked a bit steam punk, amazing. The zipper in Alex's trousers half broke and he tooked forever to be able to take out his Amazing Pass, but once inside, the views where cool too. One floor down, the second obervatory even had disco lights and music! So we stayed there, drinking a couple beers we had with us until they told us at 9 they had to close.
We walked through the streets to find a place for dinner, but most of them where closing (what?!), so when we saw a full place we went directly inside. A Yakitori place! Meat in a stick, and more, and 2 basic rules, even written on the menu: don't dip the sticks in the sauce twice and don't get the cabbage with the sticks, to not "contaminate" the sauce. Ok. So we got a mix of 15 sticks and was nice. But after, we were tired, legs were heavy, and got a subway back to Umeda. We tried finding the 551 because I wanted to try it, but it was closed. So we took a train back to our guest and made a short stop to buy some sweets and beer to have while planning next day.
After tea and pancakes from the 7Eleven, it was already 10... So we went to the Tourist Information in Umeda station again, to get some info about how to get to Koyasan next day and buy some buns in 551. That station is giant, busy and confusing. To make it worse, it is even separated in several buildings, so it took us an embarrasing ammount of time to accomplish that!
And then, we got in a subway to the Zoo. When we arrived it started raining a lot, so we stood in the covered parking lot next to the entrance to eat our buns. When we were done with them, the rained had already stopped and it was even sunny, so we went into the zoo, where the highlights for me were a Kiwi and a Red panda. Kiwis are nocturnal and waaaay bigger than I thought! With the sun shining and burning, and since Alex lost his sunglasses and cap, we took a good look at the Abeno Harukas while having a coffee and decided to go to the mall there to find a cap.
After it we walked to the Shitennoji temple and visited it, and since it was later than we planned, we decided to skip the market and go directly to the bay area. It was almost 3 when we arrived, and the only place still opened told us they were closing. So when we saw a small and shady place, out of options, we went inside. With an old guy and an old kitchen, I tried my best to order in Japanese a ramen and some sipcy tofu (but let's be honest here, the pointing pictures is what took us anywhere). He brought us first one dish, and meanwhile cooked the other. It was absolutely delicious, so I told him and he looked a bit embarrased/happy, and brought us some wine and a bit spinach with kimchi (I think) to try. When we payed, he gave us away a transparent umbrella, brand new and still with the price. Which was half of what we payed him! Amazing <3
Then we went straight to the Tempozan ferris wheel but there were a lot of people waiting and thought to go to the Lego Discovery Center first, but they turned us down and told us to wait until 6, when they would reopen just for adults. Back to the wheel, they just had closed it because of strong winds, but they told us it would reopen again at 5. So to wait, we walked around and were about to go into a petting zoo that had Kangaroos and a funny animal I've never seen, but there were too many kids. Instead, we walked along the waterfront, where they had a Little Mermaid, clone of the one in Copenhagen! With the ferris wheel reopened, we went into it to enjoy the views... while drinking a couple beers (not allowed, but... oh, well). We still had time for a bit shopping (a Tshirt for Alex and trousers for me) before going to the Lego Discovery Center, where we played like kids, but the best of it was miniature Osaka.
We then went all the way back to our area, and after a bit checking around ended up in a Japanese BBQ restaurant. After some trouble ordering (the auto translate from the menu in the iPad was not super helpful), we had a nice meat plate. The guy sitting next to us, a japanese called George, recommended other places in Osaka (a bit too late, but still nice of him). We payed and grabbed some dessert at 7Eleven, peeked at the shrine next to our guest house from gate, since it was closed, and called it a day.